Reaching In-Travel Audiences: How In-Transit Advertising is Set to Take Off


Ryan AfsharOne of the most interesting emerging frontiers of programmatic trading is the in-transit space, enabled by the emergence of ‘bring your own device’ (BYOD) systems where customers access content from their own devices, and by growing internet availability across modes of transport. Inadvia, an in-transit supply-side platform, is at the forefront of this movement towards programmatic trading. VAN spoke with Ryan Afshar, Inadvia’s head of commercial, to hear about the challenges that come with steering legacy systems towards programmatic trading, and how advertisers can get the most out of in-transit.

Inadvia are essentially creating a new category of programmatic advertising. What has your greatest challenge been so far?

The biggest challenge is also the biggest opportunity, and why we built the platform really. On the on-board entertainment side, there’s all these disparate systems, some of them legacy and some of them new emerging technologies. They all work in different ways, whether that’s how they capture data or how they stream content. And airlines use different systems depending on how old the aircraft is, some of them are connected, some are disconnected. And all of them are also trying to focus on the passenger, and what makes the experience best for them.

Like any emerging media channel, there’s no standardisation, and everyone has been building their own tech stacks. But to make it easy for advertisers there needs to be consistency, and so our challenge has been integrating all these different systems so they can access the demand.

Could you walk us through the mechanics of an in-transit campaign?

If we look at an in-flight campaign, pre-flight the supply-side will provide all the available ad slots, and send it through to our platform, which is all automated. Demand-side platforms (DSPs) will then see what that inventory looks like and what audiences are available. They will then in some cases bid on that inventory – though in the video world most of that trading is fixed-price, fixed volume.

But regardless, the trading happens before the flight takes off, and the decisions around creative approval will then happen on the supply-side. This is a highly regulated area and airlines are very particular about what creative is shown. So we work within certain blacklists that they have, but also we allow creative approval which is a really important part of the workflow.

All that creative is then pre-cached on to the server on board the aircraft, and they sit there until a user is identified which fits the targeting parameters. Once that’s happened the ad is served, and then when the flight had landed we’ll aggregate the reporting. Largely, since it’s 100 percent viewable by its nature and it’s preroll so there’s no requirement really to click through to a different website, we’re talking about completions. We aggregate that and combine it with any reporting which comes from the supply partners, and then send it through to the demand partners.

What are adoption rates like for in-transit ‘bring your own device’ services?

It can really vary, and it’s very much about how well it’s promoted. I was recently on a Virgin train, and the train driver announced it, they had stickers all over the seats, and even wraps for the trains, so there’s no way you could not know about it.

On airlines, adoption rates are usually around 20-40 percent depending on how they do it. Then for connectivity [where customers access content via their own wifi connection], depending on whether it’s an ad funded model and whether it’s free, they can get over half the cabin. And you can compare that with seatback, which is something we’re also getting involved in because the back ends are getting more dynamic in terms of their ad serving capabilities, that’s always been well taken up – it’s over 70 percent. 

Bring your own device isn’t at that level yet, and that’s partially because of another concern, which is that airlines have been waiting to push their services until they’re rolled out across the entire fleet. You wouldn’t want to promote your BYOD service but then when a customer gets on the plane, they find it’s not rolled out on that aircraft yet. It takes time because each plane has to be refitted with it, so that’s been slowing down adoption.

Are there any significant differences when it comes to advertising to people on planes, trains and coaches?

The technology is the same for all of these transport types, the companies we work with service all of those transport modes.

The biggest difference for the advertisers themselves to think about is the mindset of the passenger. For in-flight in most cases it’s a disconnected environment, so passengers aren’t distracted by emails or Facebook. When they’re watching the content, they really are immersed, so it’s akin to cinema. And then there’s the mood of the passenger – people going on holiday are more receptive to messages and branding than some who is distracted on a train on their morning commute.

There are also different opportunities around the creative, and the targeting you can do. So for example in an ideal world you should be serving a different type of ad to someone flying on their way to their holiday than someone flying back, because it’s a very different type of mindset.

How quickly is the in-transit industry adapting to programmatic trading?

There’s actually been a lot of progress over the past year. This time last year there were still maybe a lot of misconceptions from the supply side about programmatic trading, for example that it drives down yield or is only appropriate for performance focused advertisers.

But those misconceptions are changing. That’s probably partly because of changing attitudes to programmatic generally – if you Googled ‘programmatic advertising ’ a year or two ago you’d probably get a different perspective on the challenges and opportunities than if you Googled it today. But also it’s because there have been several industry specific working groups which have been helping educate airlines and aviation technology partners, which we’ve been taking part in and leading the discussion.

Obviously there have been different levels of progress across the industry, and some companies have adapted to programmatic trading much faster than others, but by and large there’s been a lot of positive development.

What types of advertisers are particularly interested in-transit advertising? Does programmatic trading bring new advertisers into in-flight?

Yes definitely, a lot of what we’re trying to do is bring new advertisers into in-transit. I spoke with a global energy brand recently, and they said that they’d never have considered in-transit advertising before due to high cost/wastage, but now with programmatic buying and the ability to target ads, it’s much more appealing to them. It’s also attracting advertisers who would usually be spending mostly on TV and digital, so consumer packaged goods brands, auto manufacturers, tech brands and the like.

The traditional in-flight advertising verticals such as travel, finance and luxury etc are still strong, but now we’ve got these new advertisers coming in too which is really good news.

How do you expect in-transit media and advertising to evolve in the future?

It’s going to take off!  Passengers will be offered more ways than ever to engage with content which means more premium inventory and more opportunities for advertisers. So, I do think it’s just going to keep growing and growing as more of the supply side adopts programmatic trading and more advertisers move into the space.

One thing that’s exciting is the increasingly connected cabin and 5G, as it means we can go from being a disconnected environment to a connected one, and there are all the benefits that brings for programmatic trading. That doesn’t mean we suddenly become exactly the same as the other connected environments, there will still be specific ways in which the systems are different for in-flight and in-transit campaigns, but it will be yet another major leap forward for In-transit media.


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